Handling NPCs

I’m thinking about ideas for handling NPC interactions. Most examples of NPC relationships I can think of are relatively one-dimensional (eg, Intimate with Donna Petrona; Connected to the Duchess), and a growing relationship is denoted by a higher rank in that particular dimension. But I think it would be relatively easy to run more complex NPC interactions with assigning a collection of traits to one character, such as:

Adelaide: Your unusual skills have aroused her curiosity
Adelaide: Bitter for killing her brother
Adelaide: Wants you to join the Resistance
Adelaide: Is afraid of you

And then you can assembling things like

Root: Adelaide attacks you on the street
(requires Bitter for killing her brother >=3, afraid of you <=2)
Branch: Run
Branch: Apologize
Branch: Offer to join the resistance (requires Wants you to Join 1)

You could also play out an entire courtship in this fashion, with traits denoting interest, doubt, feeling betrayed, fear of commitment, etc.

What I’m trying to figure out is where best to put these. I don’t think they’d work as Companion, because even though they refer to people, the people in question aren’t in your inventory and there are multiple traits per person. Progress? Circumstance? Story? We’d have to keep them together to be sensible so that Immediately Going To Tumble Off A Waterfall 2 doesn’t come between Adelaide and Stefano, but we could just alphabetize them all as Acquaintance - Adelaide: Is Afraid of You and Acquaintance - Stefano: Has Stirring Feelings.

There isn’t a place for invisible traits, right? If there were, it wouldn’t matter because I don’t think it’s terribly crucial for these to actually be displayed; it might be more advantageous if they aren’t since most of the time you don’t know exactly what most people are thinking of you, and more importantly the player wouldn’t know which things the NPC cared most about. (It would be a great way to hard code a basic NPC behavior AI, and could get responses like, “Why does this person keep flirting with me while we’re in danger, but never responds to my advances when we’re finally out of trouble and alone together!”)

However, I think that’s a tangent because I’m pretty sure all traits are public. So What do you guys think as some possible ways to handle this with the existing categories?

I’m pretty sure the invisible traits are disallowed because players want to see – indeed, ought to see – that they’re accomplishing something, even if they have to guess what it is. But it’s perfectly possible to show them progress and yet keep them guessing about what that means.

What I’d do is hone this down to “qualities that absolutely must interact” and then assign them levels. To use your example, you could lump “your unusual skills have aroused her curiosity” and “wants you to join the Resistance” onto a single spectrum – call it “finds you interesting” – with “curious” being a value of 1 and “wants you to join” being, say, a five. Then rename these to something it would be logical for the player to observe that the NPC is feeling/doing. So, for example, “finds you interesting”, you could call something like “is watching you,” or “has questions for you,” or “seems intrigued by you”, depending on the character, how openly they show emotion, what they’re likely to do to express that emotion, etc.

You could very, very easily get a lot of qualities attached to a single character in this way, though, so I’d keep an eye on that. Be thrifty. Combine like traits to a single spectrum when possible. I’m still in the poking/planning stage myself, but I’m finding it helpful to work backwards – plan out a character interaction, in other words, and then work backwards and figure out the qualities I need, rather than coming up with every single possible permutation of things I could do with the character. Because a lot of the latter don’t lead anywhere useful.

Hopefully that’s helpful. I’m a newbie myself, but hey, I can theorize with the best. :)

Just to confirm, there are no invisible qualities.

Question: Do you need each trait to have its own value?

What you could do is have a single quality for the relationship but it is not a linear representation. Instead, different values represent different relationship states. Very simply:

0 = Not met
1 = Aroused her curiosity
2 = Wants you to join her
3 = Bitter cause you killed her brother
4 = Is afraid of you.

This has the added advantage of cards and branches being able to require EITHER 1 or 2, or alternatively either 3 or 4.

[color=#009900]Yup, I ruled out invisible qualities early on for the sake of transparency and ease of debugging. You don’t always have to tell your players what a quality means, though - especially if it’s something richly symbolic, which is nicer too because it’s a very parsimonious approach - one quality, many effects.[/color]
[color=#009900]We’ve occasionally used what we call a ‘plum pudding’ approach - I think Yas might be intending this for the Silver Tree, I think we did it in Machine Cares - where a couple of qualities track what’s going on in a relationship. (the starting example of this was an affair with Passion and Trust qualities, where different events - a note on the kitchen table, a white wedding, arguments and nasty, fabulous sex - pop up as you travel round the Passion / Trust matrix.) But I wouldn’t go any deeper down the simulatory rabbit hole than that. Because the UI of StoryNexus is limited, and because all events have to be hand-written, providing enough story for four-plus qualities interacting is likely to be a lot of work that you could get round by hand-building dramatically interesting events along a couple of arcs. Although making these qualities on-off rather than continua would provide some richness without too much work.[/color]
[color=#009900]But ultimately, we take the Mechanical Turk not the Deep Blue approach to emergent story: the QBN stories so far have been partly emergent but largely hand-written.[/color]

[color=#009900]and the original question! I’d suggest you put them in Circumstance, so they’re wordy qualities with labels, and you encourage yourself to work with a limited range.[/color]